First came the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Then a towering tsunami that raged inland for miles, sweeping to their death more than 15,000 people and countless animals.
Then it got worse, much worse.
In what would become a catastrophic nuclear meltdown, claimed by many to be worse than Chernobyl, three nuclear reactors began to leak radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. The government immediately declared a mandatory and near instantaneous evacuation of nearly 200,000 people. Untold numbers of animals were left behind.
But darts survived...
It took 18 months to arrange to enter Fukushima's no-go radioactive zone for a business meeting. Among others, Rob Heckman helped me make connections.
Clad in a hazmat suit, with the tick-tick-tick-tick of my Geiger counter as a constant and unnerving background warning, I handled business just miles from Ground Zero and quickly moved on.
While inside the zone I witnessed the still eerie apocalyptic aftermath of the disaster. Cigarette packs left on café counters. High-end cars abandoned by the roadside. Vending machines still fully stocked.
Overnight, thriving communities were frozen in time. They became ghost towns.
Yet, darts survived...
In 2013, just two years after the disaster, DARTSLIVE held its Stage 11 qualifier in Fukushima Prefecture (a prefecture is sort of like a state). In 2015, the Soft Dart Professional Tour Japan Stage 13 qualifier was hosted here.
Darts bars are everywhere. There's Locotribe, Blanca Dart, Pub Grand, Barca and Space Creation Jiyukukan, to name a mere handful.
I ended up at Bar Dream (Fukushima Nihonmatsu Motomachi 2-196) located in Nihonmatsu City in the Tohoku area. The mountains are beautiful and, supposedly, so are the rice fields in the spring. When I arrived it was snowing.
Bar Dream is a quaint little joint owned by a family who also run a hand-made soba (thin noodles made from buckwheat) shop in a hot spring town about 30 minutes away.
Unlike typical Japanese bars which generally have private rooms for their customers, Bar Dream is more western-like with a row of seats along the bar, behind which is an ample display of liquor bottles. More Japanese-like, there is a second room with two more glistening tables - a more traditional private setting. Here's where one will find the darts, one board, electronic.
The bar is cozy, like a home. There are paintings on the walls of landscapes, not dogs playing poker or naked girls, the later quite unfortunate. In this respect the place is most definitely not western-like. There are fresh cut flowers in colorful vases. It's welcoming.
A beer runs 600 Yen (about $5.35), not unreasonable, particularly for Japan (or Las Vegas). There's also pizza, soba noodles with spicy sauce and Japanese bar food that I didn't try but which probably wiggles and has eyes and whiskers.
The bartender is as good as any but it's the owner - a nice middle-aged lady - who makes the place extra special. She's friendly, attentive and even kind of protective. She makes you feel at home in her home away from home.
I didn't throw darts this night (although I did do something that found me about $100 lighter when I stepped back into the falling snow). Had I thrown darts and had "Pulitzer Prize-winning in his mind" author Michael Winkler (who's been dodging a money match with me for months) been with me I'd have shown him how absurd his "Iron Laws" of darts are. (That said, I'm pretty sure Jason Carter would be easier money.)
Bar Dream is a terrific little venue - one among so many examples of how darts in Fukushima survived the perfect storm (not that Nihonmatsu City is anywhere near the Daiichi nuclear power facility).
NOTE: In the event you are not familiar with the "Iron Laws" of darts and want to read an in-depth but easy to understand discussion I encourage you to limber up your feet and then Google the "Hokey Pokey."
"That's what it's all about."
From the Field,